Voting reform

American democracy’s built-in bias towards rural Republicans

Its elections no longer convert the popular will into control of government
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EVERY system for converting votes into power has its flaws. Britain suffers from an over-mighty executive; Italy from chronically weak government; Israel from small, domineering factions. America, however, is plagued by the only democratic vice more troubling than the tyranny of the majority: tyranny of the minority.

This has come about because of a growing division between rural and urban voters. The electoral system the Founders devised, and which their successors elaborated, gives rural voters more clout than urban ones. When the parties stood for both city and country that bias affected them both. But the Republican Party has become disproportionately rural and the Democratic Party disproportionately urban. That means a red vote is worth more than a blue one.

The consequences are dramatic. Republicans hold both the houses of Congress and the White House. But in the three elections in 2012-16 their candidates got just 46% of the two-party vote for the Senate, and they won the presidential vote in 2016 with 49%. Our voting model predicts that, for Democrats to have a better than 50% chance of winning control of the House in November’s mid-term elections, they will need to win the popular vote by around seven percentage points. To put that another way, we think the Republicans have a 0.01% chance of winning the popular vote for the House. But we estimate their chance of securing a majority of congressmen is about a third. In no other two-party system does the party that receives the most votes routinely find itself out of power (see Briefing).

This imbalance is partly by design. The greatest and the smallest states each have two senators, in order that Congress should represent territory as well as people. Yet the over-representation of rural America was not supposed to affect the House and the presidency. For most of the past 200 years, when rural, urban and suburban interests were scattered between the parties, it did not. Today, however, the 13 states where people live closest together have 121 Democratic House members and 73 Republican ones, whereas the rest have 163 Republicans and just 72 Democrats. America has one party built on territory and another built on people.

The bias is deepening. Every president who took office in the 20th century did so having won the popular vote. In two of the five elections for 21st-century presidents, the minority won the electoral college. By having elected politicians appoint federal judges, the American system embeds this rural bias in the courts as well. If Brett Kavanaugh, whom President Donald Trump nominated this week, joins the Supreme Court, a conservative court established by a president and Senate who were elected with less than half the two-party vote may end up litigating the fairness of the voting system.

This bias is a dangerous new twist in the tribalism and political dysfunction that is poisoning politics in Washington. Americans often say such partisanship is bad for their country (and that the other lot should mend their ways). The Founding Fathers would have agreed. George Washington warned that “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge…is itself a frightful despotism”.

As a component of partisanship, the built-in bias is obviously bad for Democrats. But in the long run it is bad for America as a whole, including Republicans. When lawmaking is paralysed, important work, such as immigration and entitlement reform, is too hard. The few big laws that are approved, like Barack Obama’s health-care reform or Mr Trump’s corporate-tax cuts, pass on party-line votes. That emboldens the opposition to reverse or neuter them when they take power. Meanwhile, the task of resolving the most divisive political issues often falls to the courts. The battle over Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation will be a proxy war over issues, like abortion and health insurance, better suited to the legislature.

Some may ask why Democrats do not return to positions that appeal to rural voters (see our special report). Recall how Mr Obama won the presidency opposing gay marriage and Bill Clinton built a coalition in the centre-ground. But rancorous political disputes—over guns, abortion and climate change—split so neatly along urban-rural lines that parties and voters increasingly sort themselves into urban-rural tribes. Gerrymandering and party primaries reward extremists, and ensure that, once elected, they seldom need fear for their jobs. The incentives to take extreme positions are very powerful.

Bitter partisanship, ineffective federal government and electoral bias poison politics and are hard to fix. Changing the constitution is hard—and rightly so. Yet the voting system for Congress is easier to reform than most people realise, because the constitution does not stipulate what it should be. Congress last voted to change the rules in 1967.

Second thoughts about first-past-the-post

The aim should be to give office-seekers a reason to build bridges with opponents rather than torch them. If partisanship declined as a result, so would pressure on voters to stick to their tribe. That could make both parties competitive in rural and urban areas again, helping to restore majority rule.

One option, adopted in Maine this year and already proposed in a bill in Congress for use nationwide, is “ranked-choice voting” (RCV), in which voters list candidates in order of preference. After a first count, the candidate with the least support is eliminated, and his or her ballots are reallocated to those voters’ second choice. This continues until someone has a majority. Candidates need second- and third-choice votes from their rivals’ supporters, so they look for common ground with their opponents. Another option is multi-member districts, which were once commonplace and still exist in the Senate. Because they aggregate groups of voters, they make gerrymandering ineffective.

Voting reform is not the whole answer to partisanship and built-in bias, but it would help. It is hard, but not outlandish. To maintain the trust of all Americans, the world’s oldest constitutional democracy needs to reform itself.


The Trump Doctrine


A doctrine is how a president is forced to operate foreign policy in the reality in which he finds himself. Sometimes, presidents proclaim their own foreign policy doctrines. Other times, observers see a coherent pattern in a president’s foreign policy and outline the doctrine for him. In both cases, doctrines ought to be seen not as strokes of genius or decisions made at the will of the president but as actions imposed on him and dictated by reality.

The Truman doctrine was defined in 1948. Given the Soviet threat to Turkey and Greece, President Harry Truman announced that, as a general principle, he was committed to supporting free nations against communism. The United States could not accept a Soviet-dominated Europe because of the long-term threat it would pose. The U.S. lacked the capacity to launch a conventional war against the Soviets, so it was forced into a strategy of containment. Turkey, in particular, was indispensable to this strategy, as the Bosporus blocked Soviet access to the Mediterranean. The U.S., therefore, had to defend Turkey and Greek ports. The doctrine was determined by necessity.

The Nixon doctrine was established in 1969, when President Richard Nixon announced that the U.S. would provide support and protection for its allies but that those allies must depend primarily on their own resources for their security. Given that the U.S. was bogged down in Vietnam, the availability of U.S. forces to defend allies, except under extreme circumstances, was limited.

Barack Obama never outlined a doctrine himself, but observers derived from his actions a coherent policy to reduce U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and decrease hostility between the United States and the Islamic world. The U.S. was not succeeding militarily in its wars the Islamic world, and limiting U.S. ambitions in there seemed necessary.

All presidential doctrines represent a consistent end imposed by necessity. This doesn’t mean that the president will be able to successfully implement the doctrine. Truman did. Nixon never tested the doctrine where it meant the most, in Europe and East Asia. Obama’s doctrine encountered both friction and the inertia of wars once launched. Some doctrines are criticized at home and abroad.

Truman’s doctrine was seen domestically as taking too much responsibility for allies’ security and overseas as an American imperial imposition. Nixon was criticized for imposing a promise of weakness by some, and of trying to hide the fact that he was bungling Vietnam by others. Obama’s foreign policy was criticized in the U.S. as capitulating to the Islamic world and by foreign powers as being insular and lacking a strategy for critical allies.

While doctrines are determined by external necessity, that doesn’t mean that all presidential actions are driven purely by circumstances. There’s a degree of randomness in all actions, and not just those taken by a president. It does mean, however, that the main thrust of a president’s policies is defined by the circumstances he finds himself in, and the less critical an action the more likely it is to be unconstrained.

It is with this background in mind that I want to consider Trump’s foreign policy agenda. The Trump doctrine could be summed up as a policy to defuse situations that might require military actions and instead engage in an offensive economic policy, while disregarding opinions from abroad in the broadest sense.

Like the doctrines of previous presidents, Trump’s has been dictated by what the U.S. faces at the moment. The United States has forces deployed widely. They are engaged in combat in the Middle East and have been deployed to Poland and Romania to counter potential Russian moves. The U.S. Navy is involved in non-combat operations in the South China Sea. And U.S. forces remain in a position to strike at North Korea if necessary. U.S. military capabilities are therefore stretched thin, deployed over a vast swath of territory, and this creates a problem.

The United States can’t sustain intense combat in all of these theaters simultaneously. An outbreak of war in any one theater would reduce U.S. capacity in another theater, increasing the likelihood of a power taking advantage of this weakness. Given the multiplicity of potential combat situations, and the wide dispersion of forces, avoiding combat is essential.

The only effective response to these crises, therefore, is diplomacy. Consider the North Korea crisis. The U.S. could have responded to Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons in three ways: launch a war, passively accept the situation or negotiate. Trump chose the only option he could, which was to try to reach some sort of understanding with North Korea. When it comes to Russia, Trump had a similar menu of options: aggressiveness, passivity or diplomacy. But given Russia’s involvement in Syria, an area where the U.S. is engaged, as well as the potential threat to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, Trump had to take the diplomatic route, which explains why he is meeting with President Vladimir Putin next week.

At this point, going to war is a dangerous option for the U.S. Being overtly threatening is also unacceptable, as the intentions of its adversaries are to some extent unpredictable. The solution is to maintain a presence and avoid combat by engaging in extended negotiations that may lead to something or nothing but that would reduce the military threat.

On the economic and trade front, a very different landscape exists. For the United States, exports account for a relatively small percentage of gross domestic product. There are some sectors that are more reliant on trade than others, but for the most part, the U.S. economy is not heavily dependent on exports. Other countries, however, are heavily dependent on exports. Trump does not see the free trade regime that has emerged since World War II as advantageous to the United States. He’s also constrained by the interests of his core constituency, which voted for him in part because he promised to get tough on trade. Given that the United States must be restrained militarily at this point, economic tools can help shape relationships with adversarial powers like China.

This policy of applying economic pressure has of course further aggravated tensions with other countries and degraded the United States’ reputation abroad. This is not new. Ever since Vietnam, and really since World War II, the United States has been condemned for a host of policies. But it’s not clear that global public opinion has any lasting effect. Trump, therefore, has chosen to be indifferent to global public opinion, which may just be his personal preference anyway. But if he’s trying to reduce military pressure by applying economic pressure, it should be expected that his actions will arouse hostility at least as intensely as military actions have in the past.

A doctrine doesn’t have to work to be a doctrine. A president doesn’t have to be aware of the consistency and logic of his position. His policies may be driven by a strategy, but the need for that strategy derives from reality. When Trump took office, he likely didn’t expect that he would be visiting Kim Jong Un more than a year into his presidency. But events compelled him to. Trump may well have wanted to impose tariffs on China even before taking office. But he ended up doing so because of the reality he was presented with. Whether or not any of these individual actions were planned by the president himself, there is a logic to Trump’s handling of foreign policy.

But that is not altogether different from other presidents or world leaders. They enter office with policies that are merely the things they would like to do. Then reality hits and they discard the policies and begin acting tactically. Since the world is coherent, the actions in due course take on a coherence as well. It is from this reality that a doctrine emerges. In Trump’s case, that doctrine involves reducing military risks, using economics as a lever and ignoring the opinions of foreign governments and the global public. The president can only react to the situation he’s presented with and from there his doctrine is established.

sábado, julio 28, 2018

WORK IN THE AGE OF AUTOMATION / PROJECT SYNDICATE

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Work in an Age of Automation

Susan Lund , Eric Hazan  




WASHINGTON, DC/PARIS – From truck drivers using GPS systems to nurses recording patients’ vital signs to train conductors checking tickets with hand-held devices, everybody nowadays needs some basic digital skills. Demand for digitally savvy workers has been rising quietly over the last decade or more, but that shift is now gathering pace, and it is transforming the entire labor market, not just the tech sector.

In a recent report, the McKinsey Global Institute compares the number of hours workers currently spend using 25 core skills in five categories – physical and manual, basic cognitive, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and technological – to the number of hours they will spend on those skills in 2030. Unsurprisingly, given the wider use of automation and artificial intelligence, we expect a 55% jump in demand for all types of technological skills, from basic digital knowledge to advanced skills like programming.



Demand for social and emotional skills that machines lack – such as the ability to work in teams, to lead others, to negotiate, and to empathize – will also rise sharply. The number of jobs requiring such skills – in sectors like health care, education, sales and marketing, and management – will increase by 24%.

Demand for some higher cognitive skills, especially creativity and complex problem-solving, will also rise. But machines are already making inroads into some areas that require higher cognitive skills such as advanced literacy and writing, and quantitative and statistical capabilities. This highlights the potential for automation and AI to displace even white-collar office workers, for example, in accounting, finance, and legal services.

Still, it is jobs requiring basic cognitive skills, including data entry, that face the biggest challenge, as they are set to decline even faster than they have over the last 15 years. The same is true of physical and manual skills, such as gross motor skills. Though this may remain the largest skill category by hours worked in many countries, including the United States, in others, such as France and the United Kingdom, they will be overtaken by demand for social and emotional skills; in Germany, physical and manual skills will be surpassed by higher cognitive skills in terms of hours worked.

Businesses, policymakers, educators, industry associations, and labor unions need to take note of these looming skill shifts, which represent a major socioeconomic challenge. For example, because social and emotional skills are currently learned largely outside of school, education systems may need to find ways to incorporate them into curricula.

Moreover, hundreds of millions of workers around the world will need access to retraining initiatives, which today are relatively rare. We estimate that 75-375 million people, or 3-14% of the global workforce, will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 or become unemployed. If not managed well, such transitions could exacerbate social tensions and lead to rising skill and wage polarization.

For companies, these skills shifts are part of the larger challenge posed by automation, which is disrupting business models and upending how work is organized within firms. In a survey of more than 3,000 business leaders that we conducted as part of our research, we found that companies expect to move toward cross-functional and team-based work, with an emphasis on agility. The challenge will be to secure workers with the right skills for companies’ particular technological needs and ambitions.

Moreover, this is not a one-time shift. As the machines working alongside humans continue to evolve, workers will to need adapt. Instead of studying for two decades and working for the next four, as we have done in the past, workers will need continuous learning to acquire new skills and upgrade existing ones throughout our working lives.

To realize that imperative requires not only concrete lifelong learning options, but also a change in workers’ mindsets and organizational cultures. To this end, some companies – for example, the German software provider SAP – are seeking to provide continuing education programs in-house. Others, such as AT&T, are working with educational institutions to raise workforce skills.

In Sweden, job-security councils funded by companies and unions coach individuals who become unemployed and provide retraining and temporary financial support. In the US, the Markle Foundation’s pilot program Skillful helps workers without college degrees upgrade and market their skills.

But much more needs to be done to ensure that companies and workers thrive in this new era of automation and AI. Only with an appropriately trained and adaptable workforce will our economies be able to secure the full productivity-enhancing benefits of evolving technologies.


Susan Lund is a partner of McKinsey & Company and a leader at the McKinsey Global Institute.

Eric Hazan is a managing partner at McKinsey & Company and a member of the McKinsey Global Institute Council.


A left turn could be a dead end for the Democrats

It is misleading to draw comparisons with the state of European centre-left parties

Janan Ganesh


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an avowed 'democratic socialist', knocked off an incumbent to become the Congressional candidate in New York's 14th district © AP


Donald Trump’s unwitting service to his country has been the transformation of the US left. Enemies of the “Washington consensus” now speak up for trade. Old relativists cherish facts. American leadership is recognised, however tardily, as indispensable to the world. It will not console his vanquished rival of 2016, but the first wave of counter-Trumpism has been decidedly Clintonian: a defence of the liberal centre, not a move to the orthodox left.

The second wave promises to be different. As it dawns on Democrats that this government will not crumble on its own, at least not imminently, their patience is flagging with the wait-him-out gambit of lore. Activists demand bold policies such as Medicare for all and the federal guarantee of a job. As expiation for recent brutalities at the border, lawmakers propose the end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At the age of 28, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an avowed “democratic socialist”, has knocked off an incumbent to become the party’s Congressional candidate in New York’s 14th district.

This does not add up to leftist capture of the Democrats, yet. Middle-of-the-road candidates have prospered in other primaries and, for every enemy of ICE, the immigration and customs agency, there is a party elder to shout them down. But look at the trend. Fringe ideas are no longer fringe. Such an outlaw candidate in 2016, Bernie Sanders can seem pale in his politics next to the so-called Resistance to Mr Trump, and this is before confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh give focus to the movement. For the first time since the 1980s — before the New Democrats, before their hardening of the heart on crime and welfare — the left is a force.

The mystery is why anyone expects a better result this time. It is easy to fall for a political version of Newton’s third law: that someone as extreme as Mr Trump must create an equal and opposite reaction — that victory for the populist right implies latent electoral demand for the populist left. Even if this were true, it is unclear how a liberal line on immigration meets any standard of populism.

But it is not true, or at least it over-intellectualises what happened in 2016, which had as much to do with Mr Trump’s elemental charisma as the substance of his offering. (Imagine Mike Pence, the leaden vice-president, fronting the same campaign.) As time passes, the human factor in that election is being forgotten in favour of rather grand talk about the thesis of globalisation meeting the antithesis of white dispossession.

Democrats who scan the world know, and want to avoid, the ordeal of the European centre-left, squeezed as it is between true socialists and the jingoist right. But the US is not Europe. It does not have Italian levels of unemployment. It does not have Britain’s recent experience of fiscal cuts. It does not have the Marxist pedigree of France. Unlike Germany, its voters cannot count on the right to guard the welfare state as part of an immemorial consensus. These local particulars have worked against social democrats in these countries, who are either never left enough or too easy to take for granted.

Nor do these fluid electoral models — which allow, for example, the French Socialists to all but vanish — compare to the rigidities of the US. The two-party system amounts to a species-protection programme for the Democrats and the Republicans, even as Americans blanch at the sight of the both of them.

Next week, Jon Favreau, President Barack Obama’s former speech writer, launches a 15-episode podcast epic on the Democrats’ electoral predicament. Informed by testimonies from across this shaken party, The Wilderness should be the most substantial account of the American left since 2016. But the title might overstate the problem.

Across the rich world, there are centre-left parties that must re-write their manifestos to survive. The Democrats are not among them. Since the end of the cold war, their presidential candidate has lost the popular vote exactly once, in 2004. It is because power is so natural to Democrats that 2016 struck them as a Year Zero, a cue for change, rather than as a technical failure of campaign and candidate.

The question is not whether the US could do with a proper party of the left. Given its inequalities, perhaps it could. The question is whether it wants one. You have to be looking very hard to see evidence that it does. It is craven to urge moderation on the president’s opponents while he stretches basic norms until they twang. Immoderation, however, could gift him a second term.


Swiss Miss: Central Bank Flubs Facebook

In an effort to hold down the value of the swiss franc, the SNB has been buying assets outside the country, particularly U.S. stocks.

By Spencer Jakab

Swiss National Bank owns a big chunk of Facebook shares.
Swiss National Bank owns a big chunk of Facebook shares. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg News


Sometimes it feels like tech stock investors have a license to print money. One actually does.

Like other central banks, the Swiss National Bank can create currency out of thin air and hasn’t been shy about it in recent years. The SNB is unique though because individual investors can buy shares in this magical money machine. Thursday was a bad day for them.

In an effort to hold down the value of the swiss franc, the SNB has been buying lots of assets outside the country and had been going cuckoo for U.S. stocks.

Unfortunately for its shareholders, mostly Swiss cantons, that included 7.87 million shares of Facebook which lost nearly a fifth of its value following quarterly results.

Don’t feel too bad, though. The SNB’s average cost was $92.29 a share, according to FactSet, or a little over half of Facebook’s diminished market price. Other top holdings include fellow tech giants Apple, Microsoft , Amazon and Google parent Alphabet.

While those stocks have been red-hot over the past couple of years, the SNB might have better-served its shareholders by doing a share buyback instead. The total return on its stock over two years has been 415%—far better than any of those. That is something to yodel about.